How to Write Longform

The concept of TLDR eludes me. The longer a read, the better, is my semi-humble opinion. OF course, I am a firm believer in the economy of words. Your YA book should be 150,000 words of rambling first person exposition. But, as long as it’s engrossing and interesting and has lots of parentheses, please let me read forever.

Of course, most of the internet, to say nothing of this attention span-lacking generation, disagrees completely. If it can’t be digested in the length of a .gif, it is TL. And therefore, DR.

So some places have ‘longform’ articles as sort of a nostalgic holdover, I suppose, the internet-age equivalent of a curiosity shop. Something you can look at and remember when people read, man. Or show to our children and tell them when mommy and daddy were little we used to read long articles all the time, but it’s no use, because the five-year old has a smartphone and is busy using it to move brightly colored gems around.

But I digress. To be sure, I’m firmly in the antiquity camp about a lot of things, but this longform thing is stupid. Because every single one is exactly the same. So here is the DESR guide to writing your very own longform piece (Slate, Vox and the like will love you):

Pick something semi-obscure and semi-important. It can’t be something that everyone knows. Your longform piece on the spirituality of The Force Awakens won’t fly. And it can’t be completely out of the public consciousness, either. Think the movie Dodgeball as a perfect example. Everyone knows dodgeball (the sport), but did they recognize the spiritual transcendence of playing in adult league? You do, so you’re well on your way to the perfect longform article.

shut up

Have some stakes. But again, not too big of stakes. Human-interest stakes. The most integral part of your piece is that people care, and care deeply. Otherwise, prepare to be filed under TLDR. So you must, preferably in sentences that demand tension, to be read breathlessly, communicate that this matters. ‘But DESR,’ you’re saying, ‘then why ever did you say to pick something that doesn’t have big stakes? Why don’t I write about sex trafficking? People care about that.’ To which I say, you’re an idiot. The point of these articles is not for people to read them and go out and effect change in this world, it is to get them to spend time on the website and generate ad dollars. So they need to read the article, care about it, but be able to walk away without it gnawing at their soul. They’ll go volunteer to clean up the earth or feed orphans or some crap, and you can bet they are not surfing the internet from a Tibetan orphanage.


Say something that sounds really profound. Again, it shouldn’t actually be profound, but it should sound that way. This is the line that people take away, and feel moved by, because people are idiots. Take the best* piece of longform in modern history, which appeared on Vox: The “I love the Victorian Era So I Decided to Live in it” lady. She concludes thusly:

This is why more people don’t follow their dreams: They know the world is a cruel place for anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant culture. Most people fear the bullies so much that they knuckle under simply to be left alone. In the process, they crush their own dreams.

Hoooo, boy, that sounds profound. I need to follow my dreams, you think from inside your cubicle as you hope your boss doesn’t notice you’re not working. Except, the person who wrote that is an idiot. But goddamn if it doesn’t sound profound.

Also, Vox has a great description of the longform thing there:

First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays

Sound great! It’s another way of saying ‘ramble about semi-important stuff, as long as it sounds profound’.

Patronize the ever-loving shit out of everyone: This is where SB Nation messed up- not in victim-shaming, or total whitewashing of a despicable human being**- but the fact that nearly every paragraph did not come with some sort of caveat about how ‘you might not agree’ or ‘this is not for everyone’. Patronize everyone. This keeps them on the page and entranced with your climb up the lower Withcita County Dodgeball standings, even after Jeremy broke his ankle and Sonja got pregnant with twins, even though her husband just had back surgery and his job fired him without cause. But they’ll be courtside for the championship. Because we all fight together. Not everyone loves Dodgeball. But we do. And isn’t that what dreams really are?

See how easy that was?



**I am being facetious. That was their mistake.

Idris Elba Should Not Be James Bond (but not for the reason you think)

I was going to write this morning about plot and character development. It was great, and made several fine and informative points. But now, because Anthony Horowitz is an idiot, you get this rant instead.

Look what you’ve done, Anthony. I hope you’re happy.

In any case, Mister Horowitz chimed in on the ongoing Should-Idris-Elba-Play-James-Bond debate, saying Idris was “too street”, which, as far as idiotic statements go, should put him between “Donald Trump Speechwriter” and “Justin Bieber”. But there it is, and in true internet fashion, the internet has responded by saying, no Idris should play James Bond, you racist piece of trash.

Allow me to take a third party stance (that’s two Trump jokes, if you’re keeping score at home): Idris Elba should not play James Bond, because James Bond sucks.

Anthony, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but your character, and your stories are terrible. We can- and will- start with Bond being a misogynistic… something. Adjectives fail me. Cad, maybe? That seems appropriate. Go through and count the times a woman tells him “no” and he just kind of… keeps going. And somehow, she ends up just swooning over this.

We have a word for that. I don’t think it’s found in any of Flemming’s works.

Women tend to get smacked around quite a bit by Mister Bond, but at least he’s not shooting them? Silver linings, I suppose.

CLEARLY too street

CLEARLY too street

Then there is the story itself. “Story”, I should say, since Bond relies on plot conveniences that even Harry Potter is dubious of. To say nothing of the fact that most of his antagonists employ plots so convoluted that it’s a wonder they are any real threat at all. Most Idris could sit back, look awesome, drink a few martinis, and wait for something to go wrong.

It would save millions in property damage.

Every film, save for the recent Craig films (again, with the actor changing, thing. Crap, I promised myself I wouldn’t even go there), presents itself as juuuuust too campy to be taken seriously, yet too serious to be simply camp. You end up with a complete waste of two hours.

The whole premise of Bond is a contrivance to appeal to some ‘basic male fantasy’- virile male who is an action hero, has awesome cars, guns and the ability to drink heroic amounts of alcohol (are we sure Bond isn’t American?). It’s stupid, the character is stupid, and the plots are stupid.

Too street? Idris Elba is too smart to play such a stupid character.


Are Writers Jerks?

The title, incidentally, is from what is far and away my favorite segment of the Daily Show. Enjoy. On to your regularly scheduled rant.

I hadn’t intended to comment on this; that is, the Stacey Jay Kickstarter campaign which caused some to-do recently, since it doesn’t bear commenting on. I talked about it some with friends on teh Twitters, but as it wasn’t egregiously stupid or in violation of Kickstarter’s ToS, I moved on. I have no problem taking a stupid campaign to task, but for this, well, not really a big deal. Raising an excess of $10,000 for a work of fiction is a pretty high task, and if it produced the promised product, well, then, function achieved. Not how I would go about it, probably, but hey, not my project.

This is probably what Matt would term one of my more curmudgeonly gripes, but for as much as I love a lot about social media, the reaction to everything is the same: Complete outrage. This applies equally to lightsaber crossguards in a minute-and-a-half long trailer as equally as it does to actual, literal crimes against humanity. So, in true writerly fashion, the internet blew up at Stacey Jay. This brings us to the titular game: Are Writers Jerks? Let’s play. It’s a simple game: we examine the timeline, and you get to decide. There are Stitch .gifs.

January 3: Stacey Jay launches her Kickstarter.

January 6: Under an avalanche of criticism for using the funds to pay her bills, the Kickstarter comes down.

stich cry

Her general reaction is to, basically, pout. She writes a blog post about it, essentially apologizing for doing, basically, what Kickstarter is meant to do. But she decides to disappear for a while, pull the plug on her social media, etc. Not that I blame her, but still.

stitch cranky

So, of course, she receives more criticism and some crosses the line into abuse- someone sends her an aerial view of her house, among other things.

stitch crazy

Writers & book people rush to her aid- by buying the books she already has out.

stitch eyes

UPDATE: Apparently she is done pouting! All her social media has been restored and she has a blog post about ‘transparency’ (which is good) and how she’ll fight on, or whatever. I’m sure having the support of tons of notable authors didn’t hurt.

shut up

Literally everything in the process makes me react like Stitch in that last gif. She took an absolute bludgeoning over the Kickstarter, then people can’t respect her privacy, then those same people from category A all rush out to buy her books.

Are writers jerks?


PS to Stacey, if you read this: Please do something about your header image on your website. It makes my eyes bleed.

Reversal of Fortunes

I grew up in a fairly small, redneck town, which produced both a NASCAR driver and a bestiality scandal, which in my opinion says everything you need to need to know. Try to contain your surprise when I tell you I didn’t really fit in with a town of lite-beer drinking, Carhartt-wearing hillbillies (they’re great, really). I had one friend who liked Star Wars too, and we would play the old Star Wars CCG together, which were purchased from the Hallmark store (which wasn’t actually a Hallmark store, it just sold Hallmark cards, but that’s what we called it. But I digress). One time we were walking out, hard earned $3.50 spent on Dagobah booster packs, and a group of the passing ‘cool kids’ yelled “NERDS” at us.

It strikes me funny, in light of experiences such as the aforementioned, that now peoples ‘geek cred’ is questioned. I know the ‘fake geek’ thing is old news, but I recently saw an example of it, so you get to read this rant. Because, seriously, there is no ‘geek card’. No one passes a test. “Crap, I only scored a 25 on the Star Trek portion of the test and I don’t think Doctor Who is really that good, so my card got denied”.  That’s not a thing.

There is this mentality that we- collectively, as humans- want to pretend doesn’t apply to us, and it’s twofold. On one side of the coin, there is what, in the timeframe of the first paragraph, were called ‘posers’. People who wanted to be ‘cool’, wore the right clothes, said the right things, but were still not, as decided by the cool kids. Then there is the mentality of the ‘cool kid’ themselves- that they are part of some exclusive club and they get to decide who to let in. In 1997 rural Washington, it had to do with hunting and sprint car racing. In 2014, it has to do with wearing Star Wars apparel, and god have mercy on your soul if you don’t have every line memorized, as decided by someone who does.

If you were a geek in the 80’s and 90’s, you lived through all that. Nerds were not cool at all, probably still aren’t in most schools. If you grew up in a town like me, you were an outcast, and man, you wanted to be cool, or at least, not to be ridiculed. But now, nerds are cool! We broke through! We have conventions and comic book movies are the toast of Hollywood and everything! But, somewhere along the line, part of geek culture morphed into a twisted jock superiority complex. Enjoy the fact that people want to be geeks, and stop worrying about if they are or not.